The Challenges of Establishing Legal Responsibility for a Commercial Trucking Accident
When bringing a personal injury claim following a truck accident, it is critical to conduct a proper pre-suit investigation of the defendants. Commercial trucks often involve multiple owners and other responsible parties. And as the plaintiff, you need to properly identify all of these parties, and establish their potential liability, before taking action.
Court of Appeals Rejects Claim Against Commercial Truck Owner, Freight Broker, Over Forklift Accident
A recent decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Hashi v. Parkway Xpress, LLC, offers a cautionary tale on this point. The plaintiff in this case was unloading commercial tractor-trailers at a distribution center in La Vergne. Specifically, the plaintiff operated a forklift to move pallets within the tractor-trailers. In this case, the plaintiff was actually inside one of the trucks when it started to move. This caused the forklift–and the plaintiff–to fall to the ground.
The plaintiff sustained back injuries in the fall. He subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit in Rutherford County Circuit Court, naming as defendants the “John Doe” who drove the tractor-trailer, as well as two corporate defendants, Parkway Xpress, LLC, and Total Quality Logistics, LLC. The plaintiff alleged that John Doe was an employee of Parkway Xpress, while Total Quality was the “truck broker” that hired Parkway to perform the job it was performing on the day of the accident.
Parkway Xpress identified the John Doe and acknowledged he was the driver. Nevertheless, the company denied this driver was actually one of its employees. More to the point, Parkway said the plaintiff himself could not “identify the trucking company or the tractor-trailer involved in his accident” when questioned during a deposition. For its part, Total Quality said it had no connection to the driver; it was simply a “freight broker” who contracted with other companies to provide transportation.
The Circuit Court ultimately dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit, granting summary judgment to all defendants. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that there were factual issues that required trial. The Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the trial court.
The appeals court explained that Parkway Xpress could only be held liable for the plaintiff’s accident if the driver was, in fact, its employee. The company “presented evidence showing that it did not employ the driver.” The plaintiff was unable to rebut or refute this evidence.
As for Total Quality, the Court of Appeals said it could not be held responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries regardless of Parkway Xpress’ fault. At best, the evidence showed Total Quality hired Parkway Xpress as an “independent contractor” to haul freight. It is possible to hold a defendant liable for “negligent hiring” with respect to an independent contractor, but only if there is evidence that the hiring entity knew the contractor was not qualified. That was not the case here. To the contrary, the Court of Appeals explained, Parkway Xpress was a licensed interstate motor carrier.
Speak with a Nashville Truck Accident Attorney Today
Personal injury lawsuits involving commercial trucks are often much more complicated than those involving passenger vehicles. This is why it is important to engage an experienced Nashville truck accident lawyer as early as possible in the process. Contact Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, to schedule a free consultation with a qualified accident attorney today.